Irish Potato Famine
While the British government was not directly responsible for the fungus blight that caused the failure of the Irish potato crop between 1845 and 1848, it took advantage of the ensuing famine in Ireland to further its policy of Anglicization and political suppression of the Irish population. The British failure to provide adequate famine relief can be characterized as a nineteenth-century version of genocide because it was in the interests of the British government to see a reduction in the numbers of Irish as the result of starvation and emigration. In the short-term, a smaller Irish population would effectively eliminate the growing movement to repeal the Act of Union and reinstate an Irish Parliament. In addition, it would facilitate the policy of Anglicization by reducing the expenses associated with operating the national school system and garrisoning the island to guard against insurrection.
In the early part of the nineteenth century, Irish farming gradually began to shift towards the potato as the primary staple crop, which was encouraged by British government policy. Although Ireland was predominately an agricultural nation, most of the Irish farmers were tenants of English absentee landlords who worked small plots of land. The agricultural techniques were extremely primitive by the standards of the time, and most farmers managed to eke out only a subsistence living. While the Irish became dependent on potatoes grown in their small plots, the land devoted to growing wheat, rye and other types of crops were directly controlled by the landlords with the produce destined for export to England and the Continent in order to provide cash income. These conditions were largely the result of the confiscation of Irish lands by the English in the past and the current economic policies that made it difficult for the Irish to access capital in order to own land.